Demetrius and the Gladiators


1h 41m 1954
Demetrius and the Gladiators

Brief Synopsis

A Greek slave who keeps Christ's robe after the crucifixion is sentenced to be one Caligula's gladiators.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Gladiators, The Story of Demetrius
Genre
Historical
Religion
Release Date
Jun 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 16 Jun 1954; New York opening: 18 Jun 1954
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a character created by Lloyd C. Douglas in the book The Robe (Boston, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
8,977ft (12 reels)

Synopsis

After the death of Jesus Christ, Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio, who converted to Christianity after participating in Christ's crucifixion, is sentenced to death by the mad Emperor Caligula for refusing to renounce his faith. Marcellus' beloved, Diana, accompanies him as he walks toward the arena, and just before they leave the palace, she gives the robe worn by Christ to Marcellus' devoted servant, Marcipor. That night, at the palace, Caligula questions his uncle, the scholarly Claudius, about Christianity, and whether Marcellus and Diana will live forever, as their Messiah promised. Claudius' beautiful, younger wife Messalina, whose ambition and infidelities are well-known throughout Rome, tells Caligula about the robe and encourages his belief that it is a magic talisman capable of protecting him from death. The next day, Marcipor gives the robe to one of Christ's disciples, Peter, "The Big Fisherman," and Peter attempts to comfort the Greek Demetrius, Marcellus' former slave and good friend. Peter decides to travel and leaves the robe with Demetrius, and later, Demetrius visits his friend Kaeso in the run-down section of Rome, which is primarily inhabited by Christians. Kaeso's innocent daughter Lucia is awestruck by the robe and also by Demetrius, with whom she is infatuated. Caligula's Praetorian Guards arrive, offering a reward for the robe, and Demetrius is able to hide it in Kaeso's rooms, although he then fights with the soldiers over their rough treatment of Lucia. Demetrius is tried for assaulting a Praetorian guard, and because he cannot prove that Marcellus freed him, he is sentenced to the arena. Demetrius is taken to the gladiator school run by Strabo, who tells the newcomers that if they fight hard, they can win their liberty, then introduces them to the gladiators, including the arrogant Dardanius and Glycon, a Nubian. Claudius, who owns Strabo's school, visits with Messalina, and orders Strabo to arrange a good show the following day, which is Caligula's birthday. While they are there, Demetrius makes an unsuccessful escape attempt, and when questioned about his motives, explains that as a Christian, he cannot kill. The lascivious Messalina, always eager to manipulate men, insists that Strabo force Demetrius to fight. That night, Messalina provides the gladiators with food and entertainment, and watches as Dardanius taunts Demetrius, who refuses to fight back. Glycon, who admires Demetrius for adhering to his principles, strikes Dardanius down, and Messalina orders Strabo to pit Glycon and Demetrius against each other in the arena. The next day, Glycon tells Demetrius to pretend to fight, and if they entertain the crowd well enough, they might be allowed to live. The crowd boos their mock fighting, however, and when Glycon attacks Demetrius for real, Demetrius easily disarms him. Demetrius refuses to follow Caligula's orders to kill his new friend, and although Caligula frees Glycon, he orders Demetrius to face three fierce tigers. Though wounded, Demetrius succeeds in slaying the beasts, and later, Messalina oversees Demetrius' recovery. After Demetrius recuperates, Messalina decides to make him her personal bodyguard until he can return to the arena, although Claudius, weary of his wife's adulteries, warns her not to break the Christian's spirit. Later, Messalina's attempt to seduce Demetrius is interrupted by a summons from Caligula, who accuses her of conspiring to assassinate him. Messalina's quick wits save her, although she admits to Demetrius that she is guilty, and rails against being a woman in a world ruled by crazed or weak men. Frustrated when Demetrius again rejects her, Messalina sends him back to Strabo. Meanwhile, Paula, one of the courtesans who entertains the gladiators, finds Kaeso and Lucia and tells them of Demetrius' circumstances. Lucia begs Paula to take her to Demetrius, and although Paula is reluctant to involve the young woman, she takes her to a party that night at the gladiator school. Lucia is thrilled to be reunited with Demetrius, but when the jealous Messalina sees them together, she orders that Demetrius not fight the following day, and therefore not be allowed entertainment that night. While Demetrius is caged, Dardanius and his companions attack Lucia, and Demetrius' prayers for her safety apparently go unaswered. Believing Lucia to be dead, Demetrius storms into the arena the following day and kills Dardanius and his men, and the prefect Cassius Chaerea asks Caligula to appoint Demetrius to the guards. After Demetrius renounces his faith in God, Caligula agrees, and soon Demetrius has joined the Praetorians and become Messalina's lover. At Messalina's villa, Demetrius and his lover enjoy their debauched life, much to the dismay of Glycon, who has secretly contacted Peter and become a Christian. Peter visits Demetrius and asks him to return to his former life, but Demetrius, bitter about the deaths of Marcellus and Lucia, rejects him. Later, all of Rome is in turmoil due to food shortages and taxes imposed by Caligula. Infuriated, Caligula threatens to crucify the guards if they do not protect him, although Claudius warns him that his power depends on their good will. Messalina then tells Caligula that Peter, who they believe has the robe, is in Rome, and Caligula orders his chief guard, Macro, to go with Demetrius to find the garment. Demetrius accompanies the guards to the Christian section of Rome, and there, meeting Peter, tells him to return the robe before the soldiers destroy Kaeso's home. Once inside, however, Demetrius is stunned to see that Lucia is alive, although she is in a coma and will not let go of the robe, to which she clings. Peter tells him that if he wants the robe, he must pray for it, and as he lays his hands upon the cloth, Demetrius remembers the day he kneeled before Christ as he was being crucified. Demetrius prays for forgiveness, and the now-conscious Lucia comforts him. Peter instructs Demetrius to take the robe to Caligula, and when the mad ruler receives the garment, he orders a prisoner to be killed, then dons the robe and orders him to arise. The prisoner remains prone, however, and Caligula storms back to the throne room, where Demetrius castigates him for defiling his master's robe. As Glycon picks up the robe, Caligula orders Macro to kill Demetrius in the arena. Demetrius refuses to fight, however, and the Praetorian Guards demand that he be spared. When Caligula threatens them, the guards revolt, killing him and Macro, then crowning Claudius as Caesar in the throne room. Claudius gestures for Messalina to join him, and the reformed Messalina vows to become a good wife. Claudius allows Demetrius and Glycon to go free, and, with the robe in hand, they meet Peter outside.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Gladiators, The Story of Demetrius
Genre
Historical
Religion
Release Date
Jun 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 16 Jun 1954; New York opening: 18 Jun 1954
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a character created by Lloyd C. Douglas in the book The Robe (Boston, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
8,977ft (12 reels)

Articles

Demetrius and the Gladiators


It may seem hard to believe now, but legitimate movie sequels were a rare commodity at one point in Hollywood. It was common to spin off a series around a popular comedy or crime-solving character, of course, but a genuine continuation of a film's story was reserved for rare occasions, such as Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).

However, Twentieth Century Fox decided to take a lavish but logical stab at the idea in 1954 with Demetrius and the Gladiators, which features three actors reprising their roles from the previous year's surprise hit, The Robe, the first film in the studio's widescreen process, CinemaScope. However, box office receipts really weren't a factor, as this film was rushed into production mere weeks after filming had wrapped. The fact that the sets, costumes, and props could be used again for what studio heads thought would be a crowd-pleasing hit was enough to spur the follow-up feature into production, with Victor Mature as Demetrius taking the spotlight with previous leads Richard Burton and Jean Simmons out of the picture (for obvious reasons to anyone who's seen the first film).

Christian slave Demetrius decides to intervene when the Roman emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) sets his eye on retrieving Christ's robe for his own use, while Caligula's regal aunt, Messalina (Susan Hayward), becomes more than a little interested in Demetrius as he's forced into gladiator training under Strabo (Ernest Borgnine) and Glycon (William Marshall). Of course, his faith is put to the ultimate test as he's pressured into violent combat and carnal temptation.

Taking a cue from some of Cecil B. DeMille's canny Pre-Code religious tales like The Sign of the Cross (1932), Demetrius and the Gladiators jettisons much of the somber, devout content of The Robe in favor of an emphasis on action and as much licentious behavior as the Production Code would allow. The presence of a hero struggling with his faith proved enough of a distraction to pass it relatively unscathed through the script approval process during the final two years of Joseph Breen's tenure with the Motion Picture Production Code, which continued to loosen up for the duration of the decade as it transitioned to leadership under Geoffrey Shurlock.

One of Hollywood's most physical actors at the time, Victor Mature had been a star for less than a decade at this point since his notable turns as Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine (1946) and ex-con Nick Bianco in Kiss of Death (1947). Primarily due to the success of his beefcake leading role in DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), Mature was transitioning more and more into biblical and "exotic" fare like The Veils of Bagdad (1953) and these two Fox epics. Not surprisingly, he also starred in another 1954 film for Fox, The Egyptian, which reunited him with The Robe costar Jean Simmons, though its theological departure from the safe confines of Christianity made it far less accessible for many audiences than his two Demetrius sagas. Though he spent the remainder of the '50s appearing in at least two action or crime films per year, he largely dropped out of film acting but occasionally turned up in highly unexpected comedic roles for films like After the Fox (1966) and Head (1968).

Far less associated with sword and sandal films was the film's leading lady, Susan Hayward, who still had four years to go until her Oscar®-winning role in I Want to Live! (1958). However, she had successfully anchored the 1951 biblical Fox film David and Bathsheba opposite Gregory Peck as the famous adulterous lover, which made her a logical choice here as the jaded Messalina. One of the busiest and most popular actresses of the 1950s, Hayward was also one of the few who could get away with playing women of compromised virtue in one project after another without tarnishing her own image. Fox certainly seemed to approve of her indomitable presence as this was just one of six films she made for them in a row in less than three years (along with White Witch Doctor [1953], The President's Lady [1953], Garden of Evil [1954], Untamed [1955] and Soldier of Fortune [1955]).

Though Hayward had the most visible role, she was far from the only notable actress in the film. Still a relative newcomer, Debra Paget stepped into the secondary actress role and was also something of a familiar face in Fox films (with this appearing in between her roles in a pair of Jeffrey Hunter vehicles, Princess of the Nile [1954] and White Feather [1955]). However, her most famous biblical role was still to come when she detoured over to Paramount two years later to play Lilia in the mammoth 1956 version of < I>The Ten Commandments.

Also appearing here as Paula is a very young Anne Bancroft, who was mostly known at the time for television work and her appearances in Fox's Don't Bother to Knock (1952). This film marked a significant step up, though amusingly her other 1954 film released by Fox was the 3-D perennial Gorilla at Large. Of course she went on to become a respected actress on both the big and small screens as well as the Broadway stage, earning both an Oscar® and a Tony in The Miracle Worker (filmed in 1962) as well as an Emmy for Deep in My Heart (1999). Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot a few other familiar faces throughout the film as well among the gladiators and dancing girls including Julie Newmar, Woody Strode, and Gilligan's Island's future Professor, Russell Johnson.

Interestingly, the bookending of the production schedules of The Robe and this film meant that almost none of the crew behind the camera worked on both productions. Directorial duties switched from Henry Koster to Delmer Daves, for example, and the triple screenwriters from the first film were consolidated down here to just one of the writers, Philip Dunne (who also penned The Egyptian). Perhaps the greatest contrast can be felt in the music score, with veteran composer Franz Waxman taking over for Fox's busiest musical name, Alfred Newman. Still fresh from two consecutive Oscar® wins and in demand from almost every major studio, Waxman composed no less than six films in 1954, with others including Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window for Paramount and a considerably less respected biblical outing for Warner, the early Paul Newman film < I>The Silver Chalice. In Demetrius and the Gladiators, his distinctively different approach underscores what could be summed up as the philosophy behind the entire film and the reason it remains popular today: Less of the same, and very, very different.

by Nathaniel Thompson

Demetrius And The Gladiators

Demetrius and the Gladiators

It may seem hard to believe now, but legitimate movie sequels were a rare commodity at one point in Hollywood. It was common to spin off a series around a popular comedy or crime-solving character, of course, but a genuine continuation of a film's story was reserved for rare occasions, such as Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). However, Twentieth Century Fox decided to take a lavish but logical stab at the idea in 1954 with Demetrius and the Gladiators, which features three actors reprising their roles from the previous year's surprise hit, The Robe, the first film in the studio's widescreen process, CinemaScope. However, box office receipts really weren't a factor, as this film was rushed into production mere weeks after filming had wrapped. The fact that the sets, costumes, and props could be used again for what studio heads thought would be a crowd-pleasing hit was enough to spur the follow-up feature into production, with Victor Mature as Demetrius taking the spotlight with previous leads Richard Burton and Jean Simmons out of the picture (for obvious reasons to anyone who's seen the first film). Christian slave Demetrius decides to intervene when the Roman emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) sets his eye on retrieving Christ's robe for his own use, while Caligula's regal aunt, Messalina (Susan Hayward), becomes more than a little interested in Demetrius as he's forced into gladiator training under Strabo (Ernest Borgnine) and Glycon (William Marshall). Of course, his faith is put to the ultimate test as he's pressured into violent combat and carnal temptation. Taking a cue from some of Cecil B. DeMille's canny Pre-Code religious tales like The Sign of the Cross (1932), Demetrius and the Gladiators jettisons much of the somber, devout content of The Robe in favor of an emphasis on action and as much licentious behavior as the Production Code would allow. The presence of a hero struggling with his faith proved enough of a distraction to pass it relatively unscathed through the script approval process during the final two years of Joseph Breen's tenure with the Motion Picture Production Code, which continued to loosen up for the duration of the decade as it transitioned to leadership under Geoffrey Shurlock. One of Hollywood's most physical actors at the time, Victor Mature had been a star for less than a decade at this point since his notable turns as Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine (1946) and ex-con Nick Bianco in Kiss of Death (1947). Primarily due to the success of his beefcake leading role in DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), Mature was transitioning more and more into biblical and "exotic" fare like The Veils of Bagdad (1953) and these two Fox epics. Not surprisingly, he also starred in another 1954 film for Fox, The Egyptian, which reunited him with The Robe costar Jean Simmons, though its theological departure from the safe confines of Christianity made it far less accessible for many audiences than his two Demetrius sagas. Though he spent the remainder of the '50s appearing in at least two action or crime films per year, he largely dropped out of film acting but occasionally turned up in highly unexpected comedic roles for films like After the Fox (1966) and Head (1968). Far less associated with sword and sandal films was the film's leading lady, Susan Hayward, who still had four years to go until her Oscar®-winning role in I Want to Live! (1958). However, she had successfully anchored the 1951 biblical Fox film David and Bathsheba opposite Gregory Peck as the famous adulterous lover, which made her a logical choice here as the jaded Messalina. One of the busiest and most popular actresses of the 1950s, Hayward was also one of the few who could get away with playing women of compromised virtue in one project after another without tarnishing her own image. Fox certainly seemed to approve of her indomitable presence as this was just one of six films she made for them in a row in less than three years (along with White Witch Doctor [1953], The President's Lady [1953], Garden of Evil [1954], Untamed [1955] and Soldier of Fortune [1955]). Though Hayward had the most visible role, she was far from the only notable actress in the film. Still a relative newcomer, Debra Paget stepped into the secondary actress role and was also something of a familiar face in Fox films (with this appearing in between her roles in a pair of Jeffrey Hunter vehicles, Princess of the Nile [1954] and White Feather [1955]). However, her most famous biblical role was still to come when she detoured over to Paramount two years later to play Lilia in the mammoth 1956 version of < I>The Ten Commandments. Also appearing here as Paula is a very young Anne Bancroft, who was mostly known at the time for television work and her appearances in Fox's Don't Bother to Knock (1952). This film marked a significant step up, though amusingly her other 1954 film released by Fox was the 3-D perennial Gorilla at Large. Of course she went on to become a respected actress on both the big and small screens as well as the Broadway stage, earning both an Oscar® and a Tony in The Miracle Worker (filmed in 1962) as well as an Emmy for Deep in My Heart (1999). Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot a few other familiar faces throughout the film as well among the gladiators and dancing girls including Julie Newmar, Woody Strode, and Gilligan's Island's future Professor, Russell Johnson. Interestingly, the bookending of the production schedules of The Robe and this film meant that almost none of the crew behind the camera worked on both productions. Directorial duties switched from Henry Koster to Delmer Daves, for example, and the triple screenwriters from the first film were consolidated down here to just one of the writers, Philip Dunne (who also penned The Egyptian). Perhaps the greatest contrast can be felt in the music score, with veteran composer Franz Waxman taking over for Fox's busiest musical name, Alfred Newman. Still fresh from two consecutive Oscar® wins and in demand from almost every major studio, Waxman composed no less than six films in 1954, with others including Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window for Paramount and a considerably less respected biblical outing for Warner, the early Paul Newman film < I>The Silver Chalice. In Demetrius and the Gladiators, his distinctively different approach underscores what could be summed up as the philosophy behind the entire film and the reason it remains popular today: Less of the same, and very, very different. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

Why did you run? I don't think you're a coward. You had no real chance of escaping, you must have known that!
- Messalina
This is a place where men are trained to kill each other like animals!
- Demetrius
And men aren't animals?
- Messalina
No!
- Demetrius
We admire a magnificent animal who fights. Why not a man who fights ?
- Messalina
Because God did not put man on earth to destroy his own kind. Nor a woman to enjoy their agonies as they die.
- Demetrius
What is your name?
- Messalina
Demetrius.
- Demetrius
You spoke of a god, Demetrius. Which god?
- Messalina
There is only one God.
- Demetrius
He's one of "them". This is very interesting. A Christian!
- Claudius
Listen to me. The worst sort of life is better than the best kind of death. Forget your religion for just one day. Kill him. He is no good. Your god will thank you for it.
- Glydon
Do you see her Claudius ? The Goddess Diana. Every night she comes to me. My arms. There there she goes. Now do you see her ?
- Caligula
No, sire.
- Claudius
Why not ?
- Caligula
Only the gods are privileged to see each other.
- Claudius
Christian. Do you renounce your false god ? This king of an invisible kingdom...who expects to come back some day and rule the earth ?
- Caligula
There is no other king but Caesar. There is no power greater than his, in this world, or any other.
- Demetrius
By the mercy of Caesar, you are a free man.
- Caligula

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were The Story of Demetrius and The Gladiators. Demetrius and the Gladiators was a sequel to the 1953 Twentieth Century-Fox release The Robe (see below), and begins with The Robe's ending sequence, in which "Marcellus" (Richard Burton) and "Diana" (Jean Simmons) are condemned to death. New shots of "Messalina" observing the proceedings were intercut into the footage for Demetrius and the Gladiators. The sequence during which "Demetrius" remembers kneeling at the feet of Christ while he is being crucified was also taken directly from The Robe. Victor Mature, Michael Rennie and Jay Robinson reprised their roles as "Demetrius," "Peter" and "Caligula," respectively, from The Robe.
       Hollywood Reporter news items include Michael O'Brien, Virginia Carroll and Tommy Walker, leader of USC's Trojan Band, in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. A April 2, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Don Klune, a Fox assistant director, was to portray Christ, whose face is never seen in The Robe or Demetrius and the Gladiators. Modern sources report that Cameron Mitchell supplied Christ's voice, although his voice was not be identified in the viewed print, and that Julie Newmeyer (later known as Julie Newmar) appeared in the film as a dancing girl.
       In addition to Los Angeles, the picture opened on June 16, 1954 in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Providence, Richmond, Albany and Memphis. According to a modern source, The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators were re-released in 1959, with the two casts intermingled in the onscreen credits with Susan Hayward receiving top billing. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in August 1966, producer Frank Ross filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Fox and Twentieth Century-Fox TV, alleging that by including Demetrius and the Gladiators in a package of films sold to TV stations at the same price, the studio was undervaluing the picture, thereby "reducing the profits which should have accrued" to Ross. The news item also noted that the film had grossed more than $8,000,000 in theatrical rentals. The disposition of the lawsuit has not been determined.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1954

Released in USA on video

CinemaScope

Released in United States Summer June 1954